31st Security Forces Stand Watch at Aviano Air Base Italy

7/8/2014 – 31st Fighter Wing Public Affairs — As the sun lazily breaches the horizon, permeating the dark shadows cast from the colossal mountains that overlook the base, security forces Airmen are pushing their limits, running 45 minutes in combat gear.




They are training for the day the enemy takes the fight to their domain.

The troops are exhausted and the chief takes it upon himself to motivate his tired Airmen. He curls his mouth into a twisted smile and like a wolf howling at the moon, he shouts, “Who protects this house!?” His tired troops regain their vigor and scream back, “Defenders!”

The 31st Security Forces Squadron is entrusted with the more than 8,000 lives who work and live here. They are the first line of defense against any and all threats. Their business is force protection and they offer their life for the cause.

Airmen from the 31st Security Forces Squadron run the perimeter for an early-morning physical training session, July 1, 2014, at Aviano Air Base, Italy. Defenders ran 45 minutes in body armor and Kevlar helmets to maintain agility in combat gear. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Ryan Conroy)

“We train in this gear because we work in it,” said Lt. Col. Damian Schlussel, 31st Security Forces Squadron commander while addressing the flight. “You won’t be in physical training gear when you’re in the fight – you have to learn how to operate with our equipment and be agile enough to be effective.”

No stranger to physical training, Schlussel embraces a lead-from-the-front mentality for his Airmen. During the duration of the ruck march, the 38 year old starts in the back and works his way to the front motivating Airmen along the way.

It is now 7:30 a.m. and the workday has yet to begin. This serves as a testament to the SFS mentality.

“No matter what rank you are, how old you are or what job you hold, you are still security forces Airmen,” said Schlussel. “You still need to maintain the ability to defend your wingmen, the base and its resources.”

After a rigorous physical training session in body armor and Kevlar combat helmets, the defenders make their way to the armory. M9 pistols, M240B medium machine guns and M4 carbines along with radios, and ammunition flow through the bars of the armory to the waiting hands of the approximately 40 Airmen preparing for their shift. After clearing their weapons, they pass through the door marked “defend with honor” to form up for “guard mount.”

Guard mount is a pre-shift formation where critical information is passed to the flight before the start of the shift. During the formation, the senior NCO in charge passes along safety and critical information to insure the Airmen are safe, informed and kept up to date on all possible threats and procedure changes.

The flight is at attention and absolute silence falls over the formation. Their flight chief approaches “guard mount” and orders his defenders at ease. The first order of business today – assigning duty locations.

The man standing in front of the formation calls name by name, waiting for the appropriate response. The Airmen are divided into eight separate areas on base to safeguard 31st Fighter Wing resources to include F-16 fighting falcons and the base community through law enforcement services.

These Airmen follow a rigorous training regimen. In an overseas location, their jurisdiction falls within the base’s perimeter. To ensure the defenders remain highly proficient in their job, they are tested regularly with frequent exercises. At any given moment, a radio squawks “Exercise, exercise, exercise,” and security forces personnel are on high alert and tested on their responses. The threshold for mistakes is limited.

“We understand that you’re human and you make mistakes but we don’t excuse mistakes. We make sure you work out all the kinks because in this career field – mistakes mean lives,” said Tech. Sgt. William Castro, 31st SFS flight chief. “A security forces specialist trains to hone their skills in law enforcement and combat arms to protect the base at all times.”

But, what drives the Airmen through such a demanding occupation day in and day out? For Airman 1st Class Colyn Fox, 31 SFS, security response team member and flight armorer, it’s the dedication and camaraderie. The feeling of brotherhood and knowing, at the end of the day, he made a difference.

“The questions always pop into my head. Would I have volunteered for this job if I knew what it entailed,” said Fox. “The answer is still yes. No matter how physically and mentally demanding everyday can be, we are defenders. As big as we are as a security forces unit, it is pretty impressive to see how close we are.”

by Airman 1st Class Ryan Conroy
31st Fighter Wing Public Affairs

31st Security Forces Squadron Airmen form up for an early-morning physical training session, July 1, 2014, at Aviano Air Base. The defenders ran 45 minutes in body armor and Kevlar helmets to maintain agility in combat gear. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Ryan Conroy)

A 31st Security Forces Squadron Airman runs the perimeter for an early-morning physical training session, July 1, 2014, at Aviano Air Base, Italy. Defenders ran 45 minutes in body armor and Kevlar helmets to maintain agility in combat gear. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Ryan Conroy)

Chief Master Sgt. Scott King, 31st Security Force Squadron manager, motivates his Airmen with a sound off after an early-morning physical training session, July 1, 2014, at Aviano Air Base, Italy. Security forces Airmen are the first line of defense against all threats to force protection and they offer their life for the cause. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Ryan Conroy)

Senior Airman Christopher Murray, 31st Security Forces Squadron security response team member, checks a protected aircraft shelter during an exercise, July 1, 2014, at Aviano Air Base, Italy. To ensure the defenders remain highly proficient in their job, they are tested regularly with frequent exercises. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Ryan Conroy)

Airman 1st Class Austin McClain puts cuffs on Senior Airman Michael Schramm during a simulated gate runner exercise, July 1, 2014, at Aviano Air Base, Italy. To ensure the defenders remain highly proficient in their job, they are tested regularly with frequent exercises. McClain and Schramm are 31st Security Forces Squadron security response team members. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Ryan Conroy)

Airman 1st Class Dylan Dinsmore, 31st Security Forces Squadron security response team member, provides simulated cover during a concentrated exercise, July 1, 2014, at Aviano Air Base, Italy. The 31st Security Forces Squadron is entrusted with the more than 8,000 lives who work and live here. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Ryan Conroy)

Airman 1st Class Colyn Fox, 31 Security Forces Squadron security response team member and flight armorer, displays his beret during “guard mount,” July 1, 2014, at Aviano Air Base, Italy. Security Forces Airmen are authorized the wear of a blue beret bearing the phrase “Defensor Fortis,” meaning defenders of the force. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Ryan Conroy)

Airman 1st Class Matthew Durante hands Airman 1st Class Colyn Fox a radio and ammunition box, July 1, 2014, at Aviano Air Base, Italy. Armorers arm approximately 50 people before every shift to protect the more than 8,000 who live and work on base. Durante and Fox are both flight armorers. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Ryan Conroy)

After clearing their weapons, 31st Security Forces Airmen pass through a door marked “defend with honor” and form up for “guard mount,” July 1, 2014, at Aviano Air Base, Italy. Guard mount is a pre-shift formation where critical information is passed to the flight before the start of the shift. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Ryan Conroy)

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Jose J. Sanchez, Founder and Editor-in-Chief, Defender Magazine, USAF Honor Guard, Bolling AFB, Washington DC, 416th SFS, Griffiss AFB, NY, 89th SFS, Andrews AFB, MD